Looking at the trends in the mailstream in 2010, several observations can be made immediately. Comparing the entire year of 2009 to the first six months of 2010—in the world's most complete library of direct mail, the Who's Mailing What! Archive—reveals that several major statistics are on the upswing.
1. On Repeat
Repeat mail, or controls, are up 12 percent in 2010 and now represent a full quarter of all direct mail. Reasons stretch from mailers being budget-conscious to staying with efforts that are clearly working.
2. More Gifts
Premium usage, meanwhile, has increased by over 6 percent so far this year compared to 2009. Now nearly 20 percent of all direct mail includes a premium offer.
According to Archive Director Paul Bobnak, among nonprofits, incentives have taken on greater importance. Usage doesn't seem to have increased, but a lot of fundraisers seem to be engaged in a kind of arms race. Instead of one tote bag or aluminum bottle, they'll offer two or three as a premium. And tote bags and blankets (which have been good premiums) have begun to show up as freemiums being mailed to prospects.
3. Personalization Is Popular
Similarly, the personalization tactic is also more commonly used, as it's up a whopping 19 percent from last year. Used in 35 percent of direct mail, it's more important than ever to help make mail relevant for the prospect.
4. Financial Services Mail Is Back from the Dead
Bobnak also says that financial service offers are back on an upswing, as the major credit card issuers are adjusting to the new credit card marketing regulations. Some have launched new products—there were fewer of them during the worst of the financial crisis—perhaps because they view the "recovery" of the economy as an opportunity to present themselves with a fresh face to prospects. The best example of this is Chase with a bevy of new cards.
5. Social Media Is Showing Up
Bobnak notes that, slowly, the prominent promotion of social media in direct mail is increasing, particularly with retailers: Facebook, Twitter, etc. Also, QR codes have been popping up as well, although without much attention being called to them.
6. Self-Mailer Format in Decline
Lastly, the one trend that goes in the opposite direction is the usage of the self-mailer. It's actually down 15 percent from 2009, in part because of production cost. It's still used in 43 percent of all direct mail.
Ethan Boldt is the chief content officer of DirectMarketingIQ, the research division of the Target Marketing Group.